I ate lunch with another Beacon intern in Boston Common, a cool relief of a day after a string of afternoons that made even me sweat my clothes to soaking (which is saying something – I am oddly sweat-proof minus working out). We sat on a shaded beach with stuffed pitas near the duck pond, listening to little kids scream themselves hoarse and the slapping flip flops of all the tourists. My lunch container had suctioned itself closed and after ten minutes of trying to get it open and breaking all my nails in the process, a nice man came over, said, “I can’t take it anymore,” and popped that sucker off.
The intern, who is one year older than moi, studies English at Harvard. We began to talk about college, the perks, the bathroom-sharing, the merits and hardships of being busy. We established that our experiences were polar opposites; I am at a tiny liberal arts college in the midwest, holding community over prestigious, while Alice goes to an ivy league so legendary it’s practically taboo to associate yourself personally with its fine lines.
Yet Boston is Harvard ground, and half the people who go to my little Mennonite church are past or present Harvard students or professors or honorary scholars. My downstairs neighbor, Lin, does his work in the collections library. Our pastoral interns are students are Harvard Divinity School. I have sometimes felt a bit inadequate, letting my school roll off my tongue with a soft deflect, wishing (and then being annoyed that I cared) I went somewhere more well-known, to a place that carried some weight.
But the trajectory of the Harvard student, Alice informed me, was this: When you arrive, you are amazed, if a bit overwhelmed. At the end of the first year, you realize you better make some friends. Everyone’s been so busy trying to prove themselves worthy of the university, running themselves ragged with extracurriculars and attempting to outdo each other, make something of themselves, that no one’s really bothered to form the kind of lasting friendship most people associate with college. So you join some extracurriculars too, in an attempt to carve a social circle, until you realize that the activities are more work and less play. By year number three, you think it sucks. At four, you only have a year left and get all nostalgic and Harvard hosts all these events to make you realize you might miss your four years.
Granted, this is one person’s experience. Alice said she is sure there are probably people who would say to her, “You’re crazy. Harvard’s the best thing that ever happened to me.” I am not knocking Harvard. Hell, if they accepted me and gave me some financial aid, I’d be through the gate in a second. But for all intents and purposes, it sounds like building community isn’t always the number one priority for some people. Yes, friendships are formed, but more often over studying than anything else. Perhaps. I’ve never had a first-hand look, so I cannot say for sure.
But Alice made me realize, all over again (yes, repeating myself, just read the GC Bulletin) that I wouldn’t trade Goshen College for all the Ivy League letters in the country. So what if people stare at me blankly when I say where I’m getting my degree? There is something beautiful about going to a place that feels like a well-kept secret, an underground oasis.
After almost a summer away from campus, though I was under a tree in one of the most historic parks, in a city that beats brighter for me every day, I felt so nostalgic for the shade-flooded paths and full dorms of what I now call home. And for the girls who’ve been flung to different countries to let their tongues grasp foreign letters, the girls I’ve been apart from since before May term began. I packed up my lunch and wanted nothing more than to be sitting by a fountain with the best friends I love, distilling all the crazy moments of the months apart.
Suck it, Harvard. You may sound cool, you may look stellar on a diploma, but I feel luckier. I bet you’ve never skipped your homework and tumbled into bed for full-body massages with Bridesmaids turned all the way up. GC got it goin’ on.